House of Commons Hansard #28 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was colombia.

Topics

Suspension of Sitting
Income Tax Act
Private Members' Business

Noon

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Barry Devolin

The House will suspend until 12 o'clock.

(The sitting of the House was suspended at 11:57 a.m.)

(The House resumed at 12 noon)

The House resumed from March 30 consideration of the motion that Bill C-2, An Act to implement the Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the Republic of Colombia, the Agreement on the Environment between Canada and the Republic of Colombia and the Agreement on Labour Cooperation between Canada and the Republic of Colombia, be read the second time and referred to a committee, and of the motion that this question be now put.

Canada-Columbia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

April 19th, 2010 / noon

Conservative

Ed Fast Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, Canada is one of the great trading nations of the world. That is why I appreciate this opportunity to speak today to the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement.

As my colleagues on this side of the House have repeatedly stated, this agreement is of critical importance to Canadian workers, businesses and investors as Canada emerges from the global recession. It will open up new doors and windows of opportunities at a time when Canadians need them the most. At the same time, this agreement is also a critical piece in helping Colombia establish lasting peace and prosperity for its citizens.

Let me begin by recognizing the significant progress that Colombia has made in recent years to overcome its troubled past.

Decades of internal conflict, much of it related to the international drug trade, have challenged Colombia's security and human rights record. While human rights and security challenges remain, the Colombian government has made substantial strides in recent years to overcome these challenges.

I want to say upfront that Canada supports Colombia's efforts to meet these challenges. Protection and promotion of human rights and the rule of law here at home and around the world are at the core of Canada's engagement with Colombia. Indeed, our government has made human rights a priority. Our government's vigilant stand against those who threaten the most basic of human rights has been recognized around the world in all our engagements.

The free trade agreement with Colombia, together with its parallel agreements on labour co-operation and the environment, is but one of several initiatives that support Colombia's efforts toward greater peace, security, prosperity and full respect for human rights. We can and should be proud of this record. Our government believes that engagement, rather than isolation, is the best way of supporting change in Colombia.

Lest there be any doubt, I want to emphasize that in recent years personal security in Colombia has improved. The engagement of the global community and international organizations has significantly improved the personal security conditions of the vast majority of Colombians.

Let me give an example. A couple of years ago, a Colombian citizen visited me in my office and we discussed some matters that were totally unrelated to this debate. However, before she left, I could not pass up the opportunity to ask her what things were really like in Colombia. I asked her to please be honest and tell us what the situation was like in that country. She said told me that over the last 10 years, its security had improved markedly. In fact, she said that her family, her neighbourhood and friends felt much more secure today than they did 10 years ago. This was an average Colombian citizen telling the truth about the situation in Colombia.

While there remains much to be improved in Colombia, its government has made considerable progress in its fight against the drug cartels and against paramilitary and rebel groups. In fact, we would be remiss if we did not take notice of the efforts that have led to the formal demobilization of over 30,000 paramilitaries and the weakening of the two primary guerrilla groups in that country. These are key developments in Colombia's efforts to break the cycle of violence.

Colombia also has a justice and peace law that provides the legal framework for truth, justice and reparations. Is the human rights situation in Colombia perfect? Of course not. What is important, however, is that we measure the significant progress that Colombia has made over the last 10 years. What is clear is that, more and more, Colombia is developing a measurable respect for the rule of law, a value that Canadians hold very dear. What we also should not forget is that Colombia is one of the oldest democracies in Latin America.

With the support of the international community, the Colombian government authorities and related civil institutions have undertaken a series of actions that are contributing to increased peace, security and prosperity in that country. It is vital for Canada and other free and democratic countries to pursue policies of engagement and support for peace in that country.

This free trade agreement helps us do just that. Engagement, rather than isolation, will be the key to a safer and more secure Colombian future. Canadians can be very proud of their role in assisting our Colombian partners along this path.

Canada closely monitors the human rights situation on the ground in Colombia and regularly raises issues concerning human rights in meetings with Colombian officials. In fact, Canada continues to be an active member of the Group of 24, a number of countries which facilitate dialogue between the government of Colombia and international and national civil society organizations. Indeed, in 2009 Canada and Colombia established formal senior level consultations on human rights and those discussions continue to this very day.

Canada maintains this open and frank dialogue on human rights with the Colombian government at the most senior levels. Our engagement in Colombia includes support for development, peace and security initiatives. In the last five years, Canada has disbursed over $64 million through the Canadian International Development Agency.

CIDA has gradually focused its programming on children's rights and protections, while also supporting economic growth opportunities that contribute to reducing poverty in Colombia. Our projects have also prevented the recruitment of children into illegal armed groups and ensure their reintegration into their communities.

Other projects have supported environmentally sustainable agriculture to provide alternative livelihoods to growing illicit crops for the drug trade. Indeed, sustainable agriculture, in turn, contributes to food security for the many poor communities in Colombia.

I also point out that Canada's global peace and security fund disbursed over $18 million in Colombia since 2006. This fund is helping to promote peace in Colombia and the region and is also promoting the protection of the rights of victims and the strengthening of the Colombian judicial system.

There is much more but, unfortunately, my time is limited. However, this agreement takes human rights very seriously. Indeed, Canada takes human rights very seriously. Our commitments under this agreement prove this fact.

At the same time as the free trade agreement with Colombia was signed, we also signed two parallel agreements on labour co-operation and the environment. These agreements commit both nations to work together to ensure high levels of protection for workers and the environment.

Canada believes that trade and investment liberalization can go hand in hand with labour rights and the environment. Indeed, engagement may be the very best way of moving countries that are in transition to a more robust environmental and human and labour rights regime.

Canada and Colombia also commit to providing acceptable protections for occupational safety and health for migrant workers and for employment standards such as minimum wages and hours of work. Failure to respect international labour organization principles and to enforce domestic laws is subject to penalties for violations, any penalties accrued to a special fund to be used to address and resolve matters identified through the dispute resolution process.

All of this is to say that protection and promotion of human rights are at the very core of Canada's engagement in Colombia. They are fundamental to the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement. As I said at the outset, we believe in the very positive role that trade and investment can play in a nation like Colombia.

Our approach of engagement offers an alternative to the protectionist, isolationist thinking that we see in some parts of the world and, indeed, in some parts of this very House from opposition parties. By promoting economic development and opening up new doors to prosperity, free trade agreements like this can strengthen the social foundations of countries. That is what we are doing in Colombia. For a country like Colombia, free trade can open up new avenues for success. It can create new jobs and provide a solid foundation for families to build a future.

I encourage the members of the House to support this very worthwhile agreement.

Canada-Columbia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

Liberal

Scott Simms Bonavista—Gander—Grand Falls—Windsor, NL

Mr. Speaker, in many respects, I agree with the rules of engagement that my colleague outlined in his speech. I am not sure if we agree on all the details, but, nonetheless, the rules of engagement for trade and to create a better society have certainly borne fruit over the past 20, 25 years in many nations, not just Colombia, with which we trade.

He talked about the two parallel agreements. The one in particular I would like to talk about is the labour agreement. What specifically in this agreement puts Colombia in line with how we in Canada treat our labour practices? I would like some instances of policies that are truly Canadian or, in his case, British Columbian. Perhaps he could illustrate some of the new arrangements in Colombia about which he would like to talk.

Canada-Columbia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member for his party support of this agreement. Our government agreed to accept an amendment to this agreement, which would make even more robust the reporting requirements for some of the human rights and labour issues addressed in the agreement.

In response to his question, he is absolutely correct. There is a collateral side agreement that will signed between our respective countries, which would make much more robust the respect for labour rights in Colombia, as well as in Canada. That agreement references an international protocol and a declaration on the rights of worker, which is generally accepted by free and democratic countries around the world. Colombia has agreed to sign on to that, to respect those rights that are articulated in the agreement.

Those kinds of issues address the very concerns that some of the opposition parties, such as the NDP and the Bloc, have raised. We have gone the extra step to bring Colombia into the international community and to ensure it respects human rights and labour rights.

Canada-Columbia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Carrier Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened closely to my colleague from Abbotsford, who spoke to us at length about human rights as it pertains to the trade agreement with Colombia.

Why is he not taking into account all the agencies that are opposed to this agreement because human rights are not being respected in Colombia?

The Canadian Labour Congress is opposed to it, as are the Canadian Council for International Cooperation, Amnesty International, the FTQ, Development & Peace, KAIROS, the Public Service Alliance of Canada and Lawyers Without Borders. The list goes on. All these agencies monitor the respect of human rights in our dealings abroad.

We know that Canada has to protect its good reputation when it conducts business in other countries.

The hon. member said that the agreement will respect human rights. Why is he disregarding what all these agencies are saying?

Canada-Columbia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

12:10 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, first, I want to highlight the fact that this free trade agreement is perhaps the most robust our country has ever signed with any country around the world. We recognize that Colombia has come through decades of strife, of drug-related violence and of abuses of human rights. Over the last decade, Colombia has made significant progress.

I made it clear right from the start that there was something that distinguished the Conservatives from the Bloc and the NDP. We believe in engagement. The Bloc and the NDP believe in isolating countries. They believe that by isolating countries, that is how we get them to buy into international norms for human and labour rights. That is not our approach.

Our Conservative government believes in engagement. We believe this agreement is the toughest we have ever signed when it comes to those kinds of issues.

I also point out that if we look at Chile and the free agreement we signed with it some 13 years ago, that agreement has moved Chile to having one of the most respected human rights regimes in South America.

The Conservatives are getting things done. We are improving the lot of the people of Colombia, as well as enhancing our own trading relationships, which are critical to our country.

Canada-Columbia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

12:15 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Carrier Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, on this last day before elected members of the House are muzzled by the Conservative government, I want to add my voice to that of my colleagues who have spoken so far in opposition to Bill C-2, An Act to implement the Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the Republic of Colombia.

The Canadian government's main motivation for entering into this free trade deal is not trade, but rather investments. This agreement contains a chapter on investment protection that will make life easier for Canadians investing in Colombia, especially in mining.

If all the agreements protecting investment that Canada has signed over the years are anything to go on, the agreement between Canada and Colombia is ill-conceived.

All of these agreements contain provisions allowing investors to take a foreign government to court when it adopts measures reducing the returns on their investment. Such provisions are especially dangerous in a country where laws governing labour and the protection of the environment are, at best, haphazard.

When it comes to the environment, one need only look at the Conservative government's track record to know that it is not a top priority.

By protecting Canadian investors against any improvements in living conditions in Colombia, Bill C-2 could well delay the social and environmental progress that is needed in that country. This is where the government's Bill C-2 has serious shortcomings.

Colombia has one of the worst human rights records. To advance human rights in the world, governments generally use the carrot and stick approach. They support efforts to improve respect for human rights and reserve the right to withdraw benefits should the situation worsen.

With this free trade agreement, Canada would forego any ability to bring pressure to bear on the Government of Colombia. Not only is the Canadian government giving up the carrot and the stick, but it is handing them over to the Colombian government.

The Conservatives are showing once again what little regard they have for human rights by supporting a country where workers are treated like merchandise and their rights are easily violated.

The government keeps telling us that it has also negotiated a side agreement on labour and another on the environment. We know that these types of agreements are ineffective. They are not part of the free trade agreement and investors could with impunity destroy Colombia's rich environment, displace people to facilitate mine development and continue to murder trade unionists.

We should also mention that the free trade agreement between the United States and Colombia, signed in 2006, is also stalled on the issue of human rights. This agreement will not be ratified by Congress until Colombia strengthens its legislation to protect minimum labour standards and union activities.

The Canadian government, which boasts about following in the footsteps of its American big brother in many areas, including the environment, and waits for its decisions, is missing out on the opportunity to follow its lead in this case.

Colombia is Canada's fifth-largest trading partner in Latin America and the Caribbean. It is the seventh-largest source of imports from this area. So, Canada has more important trading partners than Colombia.

In recent years, trade between Canada and the other Latin American countries has increased considerably, which has meant a smaller share of trade with Colombia than with other countries in the region.

Canada exports primarily cars and car parts, and grains, which represented 23% and 19% respectively of our 2007 exports, and which primarily favour Ontario and the prairies. Most of Canada's investments in Colombia are in the mining industry.

In light of this information regarding trade between Canada and Colombia, we are having a very hard time understanding why Canada would want to sign a free trade agreement with Colombia. When two countries enter into free trade agreements, it usually means they are special trading partners who trade sufficiently to make it worthwhile to lower trade barriers.

Let us be candid: Colombia is not a very attractive market, considering that trade between the two countries is quite limited. The main products that Canada sells there, like grain from western Canada, have no difficulty finding a buyer in these times of food crises. Exporters in Quebec and Canada would see limited benefits, at best, from signing this agreement.

We imagine that some Canadian companies might be attracted, but we find it hard to see how the public in Quebec or Canada will benefit at all from this.

The real danger is that with Colombia, the Conservative government is handing responsibility for deciding what is in the best interest of the people over to multinationals. That is not reassuring.

Colombia has one of the worst human rights records in Latin America. The Conservatives keep saying that the human rights situation in Colombia has improved significantly. It may be less catastrophic than it was a few years ago, but it is still far from ideal.

If we take a close look at the situation in Colombia, we see that it is one of the worst places in the world for respecting workers' rights. Trade unionists are targeted because of their activities. They are threatened, kidnapped and murdered. The statistics are devastating. Since 1986, 2,690 trade unionists have been murdered. Although these murders declined somewhat in 2001, they have increased since 2007. That year, 39 trade unionists were murdered and another 46 were murdered in 2008, an 18% increase in one year. According to Mariano Jose Guerra, the regional president of the National Federation of Public Sector Workers in Colombia, thousands of people have disappeared and the persecution of unions continues.

Colombia does not have a legal framework to govern collective bargaining. In fact, about 95% of the public sector workforce is not covered by collective bargaining legislation. Colombian civil society obviously opposes this agreement. The Coalition of Social Movements and Organizations of Colombia delegation is refuting the claims made by the Colombian and Canadian governments: the human rights situation in Colombia has not improved.

I, along with my Bloc Québécois colleagues, will be voting against this bill, which puts business interests ahead of human rights in Colombia.

Canada-Columbia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

NDP

Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I was pleased that the member mentioned that Colombia is Canada's fifth largest trading partner in Latin America, so that it does not rank very high at all in the scheme of things.

The question is why is the government spending so much political capital trying to get this agreement through and why is it so fixated on it, when the government normally likes to follow the Americans? What do we see happening in the United States?

We met with house representatives and senators in Congress in February. Each Republican we talked to, although not all, was basically lamenting the fact that the agreement had no chance of getting through the United States Congress. It has been kicking around for three or four years now. It did not get through before Obama became President and now it has no hope to getting through.

Undaunted by that, the member for Kings—Hants comes up with an amendment that he thinks is going to help get this deal through. As a matter of fact, this deal was dead until the Liberals resurrected it. This deal was going nowhere and it has been saved by the Liberals and the member for Kings--Hants.

Canada-Columbia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Carrier Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his question. I simply do not understand why the Conservative government is going ahead with this proposed agreement. The only possible explanation is the trade interests and the interests of investors already present in that country, who want to have complete freedom to do whatever they like in order to make as much profit as possible. I think proceeding in this way will tarnish the country's reputation, especially since as my colleague just mentioned, even the United States—normally the champion of free enterprise—is reluctant to sign this agreement. They might never sign it because they do not want to lose their reputation and trample on human rights in this way.

Canada-Columbia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Fast Abbotsford, BC

Mr. Speaker, I fundamentally disagree with the hon. member and his party's position on this free trade agreement. There was a tiny hint of honesty in his statement. He did at least admit that the human rights situation is better in Colombia. I stated in my earlier remarks that we have to measure this based on the progress that Colombia has made.

What the NDP and the Bloc are expecting from Colombia is perfection. They want there to be a perfect human rights regime before Canada ever does business and enhances its trade opportunities there.

I want to again refer the member to the example of Chile. As he knows, Chile had the worst human rights record in South America and perhaps in the world in the 1970s under the Pinochet regime. Today it has the lowest murder rate in South America. In fact, our trade with that country has almost tripled since we signed a free trade agreement with that country.

I would ask the member to comment on the example of Chile, which is not far from Colombia, which has a similar context in which it has developed.

Canada-Columbia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

12:25 p.m.

Bloc

Robert Carrier Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank the hon. member from Abbotsford for his question, which gives me the opportunity to elaborate. Protecting investors is included in the proposed agreement, which means that investors can take a foreign government to court for any policy it might try to introduce in order to improve things for workers or to protect the environment. That is the most contentious part of the proposed agreement. Without such an agreement, a government like Canada's could influence Columbia more to improve the lives of the people there. Canada would have the power to persuade Colombia to improve human rights, unlike what will happen with an agreement that gives investors all the rights.

Canada-Columbia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

12:30 p.m.

Conservative

Kevin Sorenson Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, I am delighted to speak to this bill and to how the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement and the parallel agreements on labour and the environment fit into Canada's engagement in the Americas.

It has become increasing apparent that Canada's economic prosperity, our commitment to democratic governance and the security of our citizens are linked with those of our neighbours. It was with this in mind that our Prime Minister announced in the summer of 2007 that the Americas would constitute a key foreign policy priority for our government. He stated clearly that Canada's vision for the region and our strategy of renewed engagement in the Americas would be based on three interconnected and mutually reinforcing pillars: first, strengthening and reinforcing support for democratic governance; second, building a safe and secure hemisphere; and third, enhancing the prosperity of citizens.

With strong leadership in the Americas, we can ensure that Canadians are safer, more secure and more prosperous. We all know that greater prosperity cannot take hold without security or without the freedoms and laws brought about through democratic governance.

On the democracy front, Canada's efforts in the region have included contributions to numerous Organization of American States electoral monitoring missions. We will continue to work hard to strengthen the capability of this organization in the area of democracy support.

Canada has also provided assistance to non-governmental partners in the region to deepen citizen participation and has also strengthened its diplomatic capabilities in the region.

This past fall we launched a new Andean unit of democratic governance in Lima, Peru to support regional efforts to enhance democratic practices, transparency and good governance.

Our decision to strengthen our engagement in the Americas actively and constructively is being noticed around the world. We are a key regional player. Canada is now firmly on the radar screen of our partners who are increasingly realizing that Canada is present to support their efforts.

Our government has provided leadership internationally by encouraging free trade and open markets. Our commitment to opening doors, not closing them, is a key component of our engagement in the Americas and around the world.

As host of the G8 and co-host of the G20 this year, we will ensure that prosperity in the Americas constitutes a topic of discussion at these meetings. We are committed to our efforts for free trade, not protectionism, around the world.

In addition to our commercial engagement in the region, Canada also has a significant investment presence. In fact, Canada is the third largest national investor in the Americas. Our investment presence is strong in the financial sector and also in the extractive sectors.

In recent years, Canadian banks have increased their presence throughout the Americas. Canadian mining companies have substantial operations in many countries throughout the region and some mines have become very important contributors to national revenues, job creation and local capacity-building. Our investment presence in the region also serves as an example of the best practices of corporate social responsibility.

Similarly, democratic governance cannot be consolidated in the context of persistent poverty and social exclusion or when personal security is threatened by crime and violence.

With regard to security, Canada's key objective is to enhance regional stability by addressing threats posed by drug trafficking, organized crime, health pandemics and natural disasters.

Our efforts focus on Central America and the Caribbean, the area where criminal activity constitutes the most direct threat to Canada. Activities include support for training of local police, the purchase of equipment and the provision of technical and legal expertise. We will also look to increasing our anti-crime programming in the region, focusing specifically on corruption, money laundering, narco-trafficking, security sector reform and human trafficking.

In addition to these efforts, we enhanced our diplomatic resources in the region by launching a regional office for peace and security in Panama late last year. This unit will work to advance Canada's efforts to develop and implement an integrated regional strategy for addressing public security issues in the Americas.

All Canadians, and indeed the world, were shocked by the huge tragedy in Haiti. Canada's rapid and comprehensive response to the devastating earthquake in Haiti earlier this year is also indicative of our commitment to the region and, specifically, to those people in Haiti. To facilitate international coordination of a response to the crisis, on January 25 Canada hosted the Montreal ministerial preparatory conference on Haiti. At this conference, consensus was achieved around a set of key principles that will serve to guide international efforts going forward.

During the subsequent pledging conference held in New York, Canada confirmed our long-term commitment to Haiti and announced a contribution of $400 million for humanitarian and reconstruction work in Haiti.

Canada is committed to supporting Haiti for the long term. However, Canada is committed to doing humanitarian and reconstruction programs around the world. Recovery and construction efforts will take years and Canada will stand by the Government of Haiti and the Haitian population to build a better Haiti. Our common vision with Haiti and the international community is a country built squarely on the foundations of security, sovereignty, rule of law, economic prosperity, equality, inclusion, social well-being and human rights.

Haitians must have ownership over their recovery. Haiti's government, community and business leaders must act as agents of change, putting the interests of the Haitian people first. There is much work to be done in Haiti.

As we continue to enhance our renewed engagement in the Americas, we intend to continue to build on the successful achievements to date, and there is work to be done. However, progress will not be easy as we will be dealing with a region currently grappling with numerous challenges and uncertainties.

Today we heard a couple of the opposition parties dwelling only on those challenges. Insecurity is a serious concern, particularly in Central America and the Caribbean, where gangs and organized crime groups pose serious security in government's challenges. Health pandemics, as well as natural disasters, also pose significant threats to regional stability and security. Weak democratic institutions in several states throughout the region is a concern. Declining trust among citizens of politicians and political parties is troubling as well.

Of course, the challenges to democratic governance and ensuring security that we currently face in the hemisphere are set against the backdrop of a thin and uneven economic recovery in a region of the world already facing huge income disparities. It is part of the world where there are massive challenges.

The Canada-Colombia free trade agreement embodies many of the different areas of focus for Canada's engagement in the Americas. Canada has an active agenda for the future of our engagement in the Americas. We believe that we have a real opportunity in Colombia to bring our Americas agenda to the world stage. The safety, the security and the prosperity of Canadians depends on it.

Canada-Columbia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

Bloc

Nicole Demers Laval, QC

Mr. Speaker, is my honourable colleague aware of what is happening in Colombia today? Does he know that one of the biggest scandals to hit the Colombian government has just come to light? The secret police has embarked on a program of disinformation, a program to discredit, scam, fabricate false ties to the guerrillas, falsify documents, sabotage, threaten, blackmail and commit terrorist acts against opposition parties, NGOs, political leaders of the opposition and others in the country. It is scandalous.

Is my colleague aware of this? Does he not wonder why Mercosur—the South American common market encompassing Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay—does not want to do business with Colombia?

I know why. It does not want to do business with Colombia because it is a corrupt country that does not respect human rights.

Canada-Columbia Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

Kevin Sorenson Crowfoot, AB

Mr. Speaker, I believe that Canada is the greatest country in the world, as I am sure the hon. member would.

One of the differences I see is that we get stronger and better when we reach out, which is what we are intending to do through this agreement. Our economy is based on an open, free market system where trade agreements are sought and where there is less government intrusion and much less regulation and red tape. That is on our side.

The member is pointing to corruption. In my speech I acknowledged that there was corruption in many of the American states. However when we watch the evolution of Colombia and see how it gained independence from Spain, how it was part of a greater community called Grand Colombia with Venezuela, Colombia and maybe Ecuador, it has progressed since then.

A turning point came in 2002 when the new President Uribe took power. He came with a view to opening markets. He came with a view to lessening corruption. We saw poverty drop by 22% in Colombia and unemployment drop by 27%. We saw hope instilled in Colombia. Free trade agreements similar to this one would enhance both that government and our country as well.

In the region, with Venezuela and some of the other countries around, when we can support--